Citizenship, Freedom and Gender in Morocco

Award Year: 
Project Director(s): 

Chouki El Hamel, Professor of History, History (SHPRS)

This seed grant will illuminate the connections between Kharbusha’s protest (arguably the first female modern political prisoner), which occurred on the eve of colonial rule, and the call to reform the Mudawwana (Code of Personal Status) in 1993. Both events demonstrate multiple aspects of women’s agency that challenged the traditional Moroccan restrictions of women’s rights and individual freedoms. They represent endpoints of a longer and complicated sequence of events and processes that demonstrate the fight for rights within the power structure of patriarchy. The case of Kharbusha is evidence of the emancipatory expressions of an indigenous Moroccan public discourse, which preceded the Western ideas of citizenship and individual rights and is a part of an ongoing struggle for political and social freedoms in Morocco. Indeed, major political and social concerns that continue to shake North Africa today revolve around two contrasting political philosophies: liberal and secularist and traditionalist. The secularist discourse (here it underlines the civil society of citizens) is often wrongly regarded as a consequence of the colonial encounter and focuses on the language of the civil rights of citizens. The traditionalist discourse favors an identity and legal codes based on religious references and some of its tenets explicitly contradict the concept and practice of individual rights. The traditionalist discourse has, in recent decades, become highly politicized and identified with Islamic political parties in all of North Africa. Often these two political philosophies collide in a struggle for political power and authority, thus creating the tensions that have played out and continue to play out in North Africa.  The chief purpose of this research is to examine the issue of gender relations that is at the heart of the ideas on liberty and social justice in their Moroccan historical context.

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